Plans for a 15-storey tower outside the Tesco store in Woolwich will come back before Greenwich councillors again next week – because developers did not include a second staircase in the block.
Developers had wanted to build a 27-storey tower on green space outside the store, which has been earmarked for development since before the supermarket opened in 2012.
But after a community campaign against the tower, both Greenwich Council and a planning inspector threw out the plans from the developer Meyer, which bought the land from Tesco in 2015.
Instead a 15-storey tower was approved in September last year, part of a wider development of over 700 homes which would include blocks behind the Tesco store and Woolwich Central development, facing the South Circular Road. One local told councillors the new block was “pig ugly”.
But Meyer did not include a second staircase in the tallest blocks, and neither Greenwich planners nor councillors insisted on it – despite safety worries about single-staircase blocks following the Grenfell Tower disaster of 2017.
The matter was taken out of their hands in February, when Sadiq Khan announced that all blocks over 30 metres – about 10 storeys – would have to have second staircases under London planning rules. This meant that the mayor would have rejected the scheme. A similar ban on single-staircase blocks across England is due to follow.
Now a revised application will go before Greenwich’s planning board on Tuesday, which will include second staircases in the tower as well as four of the blocks behind the store.
Those on Greenwich’s housing waiting list will pay the price for the changes. While the proportion of homes for “affordable” housing will stay the same, many of those available for London Affordable Rent will have fewer rooms than originally planned, with two-bedroom flats downgraded to one-beds and studios.
The scheme only has 23 per cent “affordable” housing – a term covering rented flats for people on waiting lists as well as shared ownership – less than the 35 per cent usually demanded by Greenwich.
Across the whole development – including private housing and those for shared ownership – there will be 39 fewer two-bedroom flats, replaced by 13 more one-bedroom flats and 26 studio flats.
While the principle of the development has already been agreed, the details will have to be decided afresh when the planning board meets next Tuesday.
The staircase issue continues a saga which has blighted Woolwich since councillors first gave approval for the Tesco store in 2007. This included hundreds of new homes – any of which have already been built as Woolwich Central – as well as an HQ for the council, now the Woolwich Centre. Those original plans lapsed and the council and Meyer had battled over the future of the site until last September’s decision.
When Meyer’s first proposals were thrown out three years ago, the planning inspector branded the Tesco development – which had already won the Carbuncle Cup for poor architecture – “a terrible mistake”.
The single-staircase rule has reverberated throughout the architecture and building industries, with Berkeley Homes – which has developed the Royal Arsenal with a number of towers – saying earlier this year that in future, it would look to build lower-rise blocks with a larger footprint instead of its signature high-rises. Peabody, which is developing Thamesmead, said in March that some of its projects were on hold until it had clarity over the new rules.
Fire chiefs have called for even stricter rules, demanding a ban on single-staircase blocks of over 18 metres – about six storeys high.
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